Tuesday, November 24, 2009

FOMC Minutes: "Unemployment expected to remain elevated for some time"

by Bill McBride on 11/24/2009 02:00:00 PM

The FOMC now sees economic risks balanced, as opposed to tilted towards the downside (I think this is too optimistic). And they also expect unemployment to remain elevated for some time.

Here are the November FOMC minutes. Committee Policy Action:

[M]ost members projected that over the next couple of years, the unemployment rate would remain quite elevated and the level of inflation would remain below rates consistent over the longer run with the Federal Reserve's objectives. Based on this outlook, members decided to maintain the federal funds target range at 0 to 1/4 percent and to continue to state their expectation that economic conditions were likely to warrant exceptionally low rates for an extended period. Low levels of resource utilization, subdued inflation trends, and stable inflation expectations were among the important factors underlying their expectation for monetary policy, and members agreed that policy communications would be enhanced by citing these conditions in the policy statement. Members noted the possibility that some negative side effects might result from the maintenance of very low short-term interest rates for an extended period, including the possibility that such a policy stance could lead to excessive risk-taking in financial markets or an unanchoring of inflation expectations. While members currently saw the likelihood of such effects as relatively low, they would remain alert to these risks. All agreed that the path of short-term rates going forward would be dependent on the evolution of the economic outlook.
emphasis added
Economic outlook:
Most participants now viewed the risks to their growth forecasts as being roughly balanced rather than tilted to the downside, but uncertainty surrounding these forecasts was still viewed as quite elevated. Downside risks to growth included the continued weakness in the labor market and its implications for income growth and consumer confidence, as well as the potential for credit availability to remain relatively tight for consumers and some businesses. In this regard, some participants noted the difficulty that smaller, bank-dependent firms were having in securing financing. The CRE sector was also considered a downside risk to the forecast and a possible source of increased pressure on banks. On the other hand, consumer spending on items other than autos had been stronger than expected, which might be signaling more underlying momentum in the recovery and some chance that the step-up in spending would be sustained going forward. In addition, growth abroad had exceeded expectations for some time, potentially providing more support to U.S. exports and domestic growth than anticipated.
The weakness in labor market conditions remained an important concern to meeting participants, with unemployment expected to remain elevated for some time. Although the pace of job losses was moderating, the unusually large fraction of those who were working part time for economic reasons and the unusually low level of the average workweek pointed to only a gradual decline in the unemployment rate as the economic recovery proceeded. In addition, business contacts reported that they would be cautious in their hiring and would continue to aggressively seek cost savings in the absence of revenue growth. Indeed, participants expected that businesses would be able to meet any increases in demand in the near term by raising their employees' hours and boosting productivity, thus delaying the need to add to their payrolls; this view was supported by aggregate data indicating rapid productivity growth in recent quarters. Moreover, the need to reallocate labor across sectors as the recovery proceeds, as well as losses of skills caused by high levels of long-term unemployment and permanent separations, could limit the pace of gains in employment. Participants discussed the possibility that this recovery could resemble the past two, which were characterized by a slow pace of hiring for a time even after aggregate demand picked up.